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Bunkle Parish Church

Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, from south east

Summary description

The sole structural relic of the medieval church is a semi-circular apse, which presumably stood at the east end of the medieval chancel. The masonry of the rest of the building is said to have been used in constructing the new church a short distance to its north-west.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

Like the church of the adjoining parish of Preston (q.v.), it is likely that the church of Bunkle had been granted by the early 1100s at the latest to a bishop of Dunkeld and had become attached to the estate of the Celtic monastery of Dunkeld. It is likely that the church originated as a chapel serving a portion of an estate and, as the parish pattern crystallised in the region in the first half of the twelfth century, the bishop of Dunkeld ensured that it achieved independent parochial status under his jurisdiction. Such a development gains some corroboration when the parish is first noted in a surviving historical record, Bagimond’s Roll, where the parsonage was already united to the episcopal mensa and the cure was served by a vicar perpetual.(1) The annexation remained in place at the Reformation, when the vicarage was held by sir Harry Loch.(2) At that time, the fruits of the parsonage of the kirk of Bunkle were set in assedation to the earl of Morton.(3) The parish of Preston was united with that of Bunkle after 1617.(4) At that time, it was noted that the parsonage pertained to the bishopric of Dunkeld and that the vicarage was in the gift of the bishop.

Records of the vicarage become common from the end of the fourteenth century when the volume of correspondence with the papal curia, especially in terms of supplications for provision, begins to increase. The correspondence reveals some interesting insights on the process of clerical advancement. In November 1399, for example, William of Kemback, priest of St Andrews siocese, received papal letters of provision to the church, which had been declared vacant on the grounds that the previous recipient had failed to have himself promoted to priest’s orders within a year of his collation to his charge.(5)


1. SHS Misc, vi, 72. The church is only listed in the second year of the taxation.

2. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 192, 302, 342, 346.

3. RSS, v, no 2693.

4. Report on Certain Parishes, 1.

5. CPL, Benedict XIII, 390.

Architectural analysis

A semi-circular apse, which is built of large blocks of roughly squared buff sandstone rubble, with more carefully squared rubble dressings, is the only relic of the medieval church, and its details leave little doubt that it is of relatively early twelfth-century date. Nothing is known about the rest of the building other than that, as might be expected, the chancel which abutted it to the west appears to have been wider and to have risen higher than the apse. This conclusion is based on the evidence of the cut-back and refaced masonry at each end of the wall on the chord of the apse, and from the fact that the stone flagged roof over the wall on the line of the chord clearly post-dates the demolition of the adjoining fabric to the west. The apse had a diameter on the line of the chord of 5.3 metres, and its circumference was 10.93 metres; the arch opening into the apse has a width of some 2.3 metres.

The apse arch has responds of rectangular profile, each with a broadly chamfered base and an impost with a bottom chamfer; the latter extends some distance to each side below the arch springing. The arch itself is also of rectangular profile and is built of roughly cut voussoirs. Lighting the apse there were small round-headed windows directed north-east and south-east. The former is now blocked, but the sill and the W reveal are still in place, and the internal rear-arch remains clearly visible. The latter window has been externally enlarged, but a short way to its east there is what could be a re-set discarded window head. The internal rear-arches of these windows are (or were) widely splayed, and have arched heads constructed of roughly cut voussoirs. Cut into the north and south walls immediately within the apse arch are two small square recesses, that on the south side having apparently been a piscina, while that on the north was an aumbry.

The semi-dome of the apse, which emerges from the apse walls without any break, is constructed of concentrically set courses of small rubble. At the wall head externally is a cavetto-moulded cornice, while the extrados of the apse vault is covered by overlapping stone flags. This cornice and covering are unlikely to be earlier than the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, while the flags over the wall on the chord of the apse clearly post-date the destruction of the rest of the church, and may be considerably later than that.

The parishes of Bunkle and Preston were united by Act of Parliament in 1617, though both churches appear to have remained in use for some time. By 1660 it was said that the choir of Bunkle was in a ruinous state. In 1669 orders were given by the Synod of Dunkeld that services should only be held at Preston, and in the following year the bishop ordered that the roof should be taken off Bunkle Church and reconstructed over Preston. Nevertheless, services continued to be held in both churches until 1718, when repairs were carried out at Bunkle, and Preston was abandoned. In 1820 it was decided to build a new church immediately to the north-west of the medieval building, using the materials of the old church. The apse was preserved through being adapted as a burial place for the Home of Billie family, a use to which it may have been put for some time before then.

There is no reason to doubt that the fabric of the medieval church was re-used in building the new church, though the masonry was extensively re-dressed, and little in its walls could now be identified with confidence as medieval. The exception to this is a pinnacle that has been re-set at the apex of the east gable of the new church, which may be of fifteenth-century date, and which suggests that the lost church must have been a building of some quality. The adaptation of the apse as a burial enclosure for the Home of Billie family is commemorated on a tablet above the apse arch that is inscribed ‘BILLIE 18..’, and to the west of the apse its curve is continued in a semi-circular dwarf wall supporting an iron fence.


Binnie, G.A.C., 1995, The churches and graveyards of Berwiskshire, Ladykirk, 36-46.

Brooke, C.J., 2000, Safe sanctuaries, Edinburgh, 37-9.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 390.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 23.

Cruft, K., Dunbar, J., Fawcett, R., 2006, The Buildings of Scotland, Borders, New Haven and London, 164-5.

Dunlop, A.I., 1939, ‘Bagimond’s Roll, statement of the tenths of the kingdom of Scotland’ Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi, 1-77, at 72.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 192, 302, 342, 346.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T., 1896-7, The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, i (1896), 314-6.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, ii (Berwick), 122.

Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1908-82, ed. J.M. Thomson et al., Edinburgh, v, no 2693.

Reports on the state of certain parishes in Scotland, 1835, ed. A. Macdonald, (Maitland Club), Edinburgh, 1.

Robson, J., 1896, The churches and churchyards of Berwickshire, Kelso, 17-26.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore database.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1915, Inventory of Berwickshire, Edinburgh, 164-5.



Click on any thumbnail to open the image gallery and slideshow.

  • 1. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, from south east

  • 2. Bunkle New Church, exterior, re-used pinnacle

  • 3. Bunkle New Church, exterior, from south west

  • 4. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, burial aisle inscription

  • 5. Bunkle Old Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 6. Bunkle Old Church, interior, apse, vault

  • 7. Bunkle Old Church, interior, apse, blocked north east window

  • 8. Bunkle Old Church, interior, apse, arch respond

  • 9. Bunkle Old Church, interior, apse

  • 10. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, roof

  • 11. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, south east window

  • 12. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, possible re-used window arch

  • 13. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, blocked north east window

  • 14. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, footings

  • 15. Bunkle Old Church,exterior, apse, from west

  • 16. Bunkle Old Church, exterior, apse, from north